The National Technical University of Athens (NTUA) has signed an agreement with France’s prestigious Ecole Nationale des Ponts et Chaussees (ENPC) which could be a turning point in the effort to upgrade education in Greece. In the academic year 2003-2004, students who have completed their third year in the NTUA’s civil engineering faculty will be able to study at the French institute, and the same will apply for French students wanting to study in Athens. The first French students to attend classes at the NTUA from September have already been selected. When they have completed their studies, the students will receive a degree as «an engineer of the Ecole Nationale des Ponts et Chaussees and the National Technical University of Athens.» This is an especially significant step as it raises to the highest possible level the cooperation between Greek and foreign universities not only in organizing joint postgraduate programs (of which there are already three involving Greek and French universities), but also in undergraduate studies. «Only through cooperation can the Greek tertiary education institutions get into the European society of knowledge and have a chance, as equals, to play a leading role for the new generations that will graduate in 21st century Europe,» NTUA principal Themistocles Xanthopoulos told Kathimerini. The ENPC, he said, «is considered the best of its kind in the EU.» Education Minister Petros Efthymiou is optimistic. «Greek universities are ready not only to develop cooperation with foreign universities at a high level but also to play a leading role in the development of such cooperation,» he said. He added that similar cooperation is being examined with German universities. The initial five-year agreement, signed by ENPC director Pierre Veltz and the dean of the NTUA’s faculty of civil engineering, Andreas Anagnostopoulos, provides for, among other things, students who have finished their third year at the NTUA to be admitted to the ENPC’s second year as «student-engineers;» they will follow academic, technical and language classes in the second and third year and also do practical exercises of between two months and a year; in their fourth semester there, they must prepare and defend a dissertation before representatives of both institutions.